"The Lord is Near"                Philippians 4: 1-9                  October 12, 2008

It is getting harder and harder to make genuine human connections. We cash checks and make deposits at ATMs. We pump our own gas and pay by credit card outside. I don't know about you, but somehow I have never been convinced that the gas pump really means it when it tells me, "Thank you, have a good day."
We use elaborate computerized menus on phone calls to get the information we want, and leave messages just by pushing the right phone buttons. All these high-tech tactics for getting things done work efficiently most of the time. However, they leave us with a huge void in our lives where there used to be human interactions.

When the Bible defines God as "love," and defines us as created in God's image, the Bible is tipping us off to something extremely important. "Love" means "relationships." God made us to be in relationship.

There are three types of relationships we can develop and nurture in our lives. Each has its own important role in keeping us healthy. These three types of relationships point us in three different directions: outward, inward, upward.

Outward: These are our purely social encounters--our daily experiences of living in the world with others.

Inward: This is how we relate to our inner self--the person we are when no one is looking.

Upward: Our relationship with God--how we meet and experience the Divine in our everyday life.
Paul delights in the relationships he established and maintained throughout his far-flung ministry. Today's reading from his letter to the Philippian church reveals that even while he was under house arrest, far away from those he cared about, he was comforted by the mere thought of these brothers and sisters.
Despite the fact that Paul was always on the road, that he had no place to call "home," that he sometimes went years between seeing or hearing about those whom he called "friend," the apostle still rejoiced in all his personal relationships and was strengthened and nurtured by them.

Paul have a secret to establishing rich and meaningful relationships that we don't know about? Not really. But perhaps because his life was so unpredictable, Paul had learned to be genuinely present before each person he met--no matter the circumstances, their station in life, or the length of their encounter.

You, too, can have personal relationships with each person you encounter in your life. A "relationship" is not defined solely on the length of its duration. A relationship is established when a genuine connection is made.

The personal ties between
Paul and the Philippians are evident as he addresses them in 4:1 as those he loves and longs for. This "longing" Paul voices is an emotional ache, perhaps best understood as a kind of "homesickness." Paul's letter is written while he is imprisoned--forcibly kept far away from those who offered him a spiritual "home base."

The personal message to Euodia and Syntyche offers us a glimpse inside this community of faith. In Philippi, it appears that women were some of the most visible, active leaders in the church. Acts 16:14-15, tells us that a wealthy woman, Lydia, was Paul's first convert in Philippi. Her home became the meeting place for the first Christians in the city, and her leadership and support within this faith community remained constant.

Paul identifies two other women, Euodia and Syntyche, as his "coworkers" in the Philippian church. Paul gently urges them to "be of the same mind;" he reminds them how they worked "beside" him. The apostle skillfully places the two women on equal ground putting them on level footing with his own spiritual efforts in the Philippian church. Paul defuses any sense of a pecking order by his claim that all those involved in the church's work of faith have their names listed "in the book of life."

The usual setbacks and frustrations that often dominate daily life can keep us from looking upward, from raising up our eyes and experiencing the presence of God; from experiencing the Divine in the most mundane of circumstances or irritating interactions.
This is the stuff that clogs up our lives and clouds our vision, makes it impossible for us to see further than the tiny world of our own needs and concerns. Paul advises us,
4Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
 In verses 4-9 Paul outlines the attitudinal characteristics that should be evident in the lives of those whose faith is in Christ. They should be known by their "gentleness," or more literally, their "forbearance." This is an attitude that does not seek retaliation or "insist upon always getting its own way" as Paul puts it elsewhere. It suggests flexibility in the face of conflict.

Paul's immediate reminder, "The Lord is near," was a common phrase used in the life of the early church, and does not need be taken in the eschatological sense. "Maranatha" is also a comforting phrase, and perhaps may serve here as a reminder that the Lord is watching how the faithful are behaving toward one another. The Lord is near. Therefore, we can rejoice.

The ultimate key to finding the joy, gentleness and peace that
Paul presents is described in verses 6-7.
6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in ChristJesus.
 The Lord is near. It is through being in a state of constant prayer and supplication toward the Lord that the peace "which surpasses all understanding" can enter into every fiber of our being. The "peace" Paul promises does not come about through the absence of strife or hardship. Paul's own predicament clearly points that out.
The peace God bestows is a condition of confident well-being. It is, in fact, no less than the state of salvation--feeling the "click" that comes with being in a right relationship with God. This is the source of a Christian's "peace."

This week's text closes with a list of qualities
Paul cites as indicative of those displayed by believers.
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
These qualities may have been taken from a typical list of virtues that would have been used as a teaching device by first-century moral philosophers. However, Paul quickly acknowledges that in Christians, these virtues both originate and are magnified by the assurance of God's ever-present peace, because the Lord is near.
The Rev. MartinE.Pike, Jr., in Kingsville, Texas, cites the following:
"Three minutes had elapsed since I had taken my seat at the counter. Waitresses passed me by; two cooks and a busboy took no notice of my presence. My ego was soothed only because the truck driver seated next to me was ignored as well.
"Maybe this counter is off-limits," I said to him. "Maybe they are short of help," he responded. "Maybe they don't want our business," I said. "Maybe they are taking care of those at the tables," was his reply.
The hands on the clock continued to move. "Maybe they don't like us," I insisted. "The air conditioning feels so good I don't mind waiting," he said.
At this point, a harried waitress stopped to tell us that the water had been cut off and the dishwasher was not functioning. My nameless compatriot smiled, thanked the waitress and left.
I didn't like him much! Three times, I had sought his support for my obnoxious attitude, but he had let me down. Only later did I realize that he had chosen to practice what I preach.[i] "  
Hurry and worry destroy our capacity for building and maintaining meaningful relationships.
Hurry destroys our outward, social relationships by causing us to commit one of the greatest possible sins against our neighbors--ignoring them. We grab our packages from the grocery clerk and run. We pack so many errands into our 45-minute lunch "hour" that we are already halfway out the door before any of our transactions are even completed.

In order to create a life full of deep and rich personal relationships, we must take every human encounter seriously.

Worry destroys our capability for making meaningful relationships with others from the inside out. Worry spirals all our attention inward, focusing our energies only on our own concerns and ourselves.

It is next to impossible to make a genuine connection with another human being when our minds are a thousand miles away. Being present for the other is a minimum daily requirement for establishing relationships outside ourselves.
Paul never let his own personal worries interfere with the business of preaching the gospel and building genuine relationships. Paul preached "Rejoice" in the face of his own difficulties. He was convinced the Lord is near.

Both hurry and worry can short-circuit our desire to build deep and meaningful relationships. The Lord is near.
Paul knew it. Paul taught it. The Philippians knew it, and together they lived it: evidence to those around them that the Lord is near.
What is keeping you from having genuine personal relationships with the bank tellers and checkout clerks of your life?
Let us pray: Lord, God, Almighty, Let the words of our mouths, the meditations of our hearts, and the way that we live our lives be acceptable and pleasing in your sight, our Lord, Redeemer, Friend and Constant Companion. Amen.
Rev. RosemaryStelz

[i] Rev. MartinE.Pike, Jr. (Kingsville, Texas), The Upper Room, February 14, 1996.
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